Fantastic Four #23

Sometimes a Dr. Doom issue is epic and adds immensely to the mythos. Other times it’s kind of a filler issue. coverFebruary 1964, by Stan and Jack. I actually had to go back to last issue and hunt up the tease to try and sort out what they’re talking about when they make the “Another mighty milestone” boast, and it’s a tenuous claim, at best.

I’m starting to think all these Doctor Doom deaths are red herrings!

dino escapeWhere did that dinosaur come from? Turns out Reed has been fooling around with Doom’s time platform. This is a pretty great example of Kirby hand!

time platformI had no idea “funny as a crutch” was a thing people say, but apparently it is. There’s even a play named after the expression!

Tensions are high at the Baxter Building this morning, with Reed furious that he can’t do something as simple as leaving a supervillain’s time machine laying around and switched on without someone screwing with it.

seriouslyReed’s being a bit of a taskmaster here for no apparent reason. There’s no looming threat or anything as far as I can tell. He’s just generally being an ass. Well, the team is fed up with it!

fed upStan and company and sticking hard to the “they don’t get along” schtick. If it’s not enemy mind control it’s petty jealousy or stress.

Meanwhile, a mysterious benefactor has bailed several small-time hoods out of jail and gathers them together for a meeting.

thugs(If you’re curious, “yogi” just means someone who practices yoga and meditation, though I think here Stan really meant “guy from weird eastern religion or whatever nobody really knows anything about, maybe people will think he’s like a genie or something.”)

But who has gathered these rough men together, and to what end?

doom revealWe last saw Doom plunge to his death back in Issue 17, though he’d made the rounds over in other titles like Spider-Man and Avengers in the meantime.

At the Baxter Building, our heroes convene to decide a new leader, by democratic process.

vote blunder
Where’s my “Reed was right” shirt?

The botched election immediately leads to violent anarchy, with all three squabbling and fighting to decide who will be team leader. Reed eventually puts an end to it by letting them know what jackasses they’ve been…and by apologizing.

apologiesThis explains Reed’s tension – they probably heard about Doom’s survival and return after the villain’s encounter with Spider-Man. Reed is rightfully worried that he may strike at any moment!

Doom is planning that as they speak!

empoweredIf this looks familiar it’s because the Red Ghost did pretty much the same thing back in Issue 13, basking himself and his apes in cosmic rays to give them all powers. Doom has his own, unexplained, method via his XZ-12 device.

trio powers
“Yes, Yogi, the only way to test your powers is to aim the flame directly at your dick. NO MORE QUESTIONING DOOM!”

The idea here is that Doom is just amplifying the crooks’ innate special skills, but it doesn’t really make sense. Bull gets much stronger, sure, and that checks out. But Dakor’s “fire proof” talent isn’t really a thing, it was just a circus trick. And I’m not sure what superhuman hearing has to do with being charming, though I guess you could stretch it to suggest that being a good listener is something women would be interested in? That’s nonsense, though, we all know it’s muscles and kicking sand on weaklings on the beach that the ladies are looking for.

In any event, Doom gives them their targets and they’re off! Yogi Dakor naturally is set upon the Human Torch. Dakor sets up an elaborate scenario where he comes up with a fantastic experimental hot rod that a wealthy maharaja wants to give him, for reasons unknown. Really, Dakor is vastly overestimating how difficult it is to get Johnny to jump into a car with a weirdo.

johnny dumbThe title of maharaja has a curious history. In ancient times there weren’t a lot of them, as the region of India and Pakistan consisted of a lot of small kingdoms and tribes. When the British moved in and colonized the area, though, suddenly every two-bit prince got the title of maharaja, I imagine in a bid by the English to make every ruler feel more like a sovereign equal rather than a vassal pawn of a global power.

Anyway, Johnny falls for it, because he’s Johnny, and Dakor makes short work of him.

johnny caughtBull lures Ben Grimm out of the Baxter Building with some fake letters from the Yancy Street Gang. Bull can’t match Thing’s strength, but it turns out he doesn’t need to.

thing caughtBack at the Baxter Building, Sue is practicing with her powers, particularly fine control. Reed interrupts her with an impromptu training session, because what better way to get back into a woman’s good graces than by ambushing her while she’s working on something important to her?sue practiceSue handily employs an invisible blast to fend Reed off, but she is still pissed and tells him to scram. sue madIt’s weird to see Reed get worked up like this. I like my Mr. Fantastic more Spock-like, I guess, more analytical and absent minded. He has his little temper-tantrum, but even worse is Sue thinking she deserved it.

Enter Handsome Harry, who chose his moment to strike with uncanny accuracy. Sue is initially taken in by his evil masculine wiles, but for a notorious con man Harry gives up the game really fast.

sue caughtSue tries to elude him by turning invisible, but he uses his super hearing to find her and deliver a (un)healthy dose of ether gas.

Finally, Doom takes Reed on himself, fooling him with a Thing robot.

reed caughtRobots have definitely been a signature Doom move since the beginning, and feature in most of his plans. He used one earlier in this issue to bail out his goons (because he’d have to take his armor off for five minutes otherwise). He’s also quick to dispose of them. Are they biodegradable, I wonder?

disposable benThe team securely in custody, Doom turns to matters of payroll and HR.

doom at peak capitalFirst of all, even in 1964 there’s no way 5 grand buys you the Fantastic Four. Secondly, these guys have a super need to unionize while they’re in that other dimension. Those dimensional transport boxes are probably not OSHA approved.

I know what you’re thinking: these guys are totally awesome and it would definitely be a waste not to ever use them again. The Terrible Trio, as they come to be known, does make a few more appearances in the Marvel Universe over the decades since, but for most part disappear into obscurity. We’ll never see them again here in the pages of Fantastic Four.

Doom is way too complacent, though, and also is unaware of Sue’s new powers.

ben freeOnce Ben is free he easily frees the others, since Doom tossed them all in the same room.  He swiftly responds and we get our first real knock-down, drag-out fight between the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom.

ben doom fightIn prior conflicts, Doom pretty much relied on his traps and gadgets to do the fighting for him. Individually, Doom is able to keep up with them pretty handily.

doom foolsBut it looks like he might just be delaying them!

doom solarEgads! A solar wave? What is Doom blathering about, Reed?

solar waveStan is all-in with the technobabble on this one. Neither solar waves nor ionic dust are a thing, as far as I know. Still, the threat is clear: when the solar wave reaches the room, it will interact with the ionic dust that the room has been coated with and transport the lot of them into some random part of outer space! Sue does what any good hero would: nobly ensure that the villain will die with them.

doom trappedThis issue marks a pretty big jump in Sue’s power level, as she learns to use her powers for offense and not just defense. doom desperateDoom is concerned about the world losing his brain, not about dying! He’s so generous!

doom tossedThing finally gets to legit murder someone. In this case, space murder.

doom helllllllllpLuckily, ionic dust is apparently quite expensive, and since Doom is a cheapskate he only coated the one room with it.

endWait, hold on, if anyone saved everyone and deserves to be team leader, it’s Sue, right? She got them free and then forced Doom to compromise his plan, which allowed them to escape and survive. If it weren’t for Sue and her fancy new powers, you guys would all be dead. But sure, Reed told everyone to get out of the room that was in the process of being teleported into space — I mean, who else would have thought of that? — so he gets the credit. Also: dude.

Not the most inspired issue we’ve read, but not a total loss. The huckster claim on the cover about a mile stone is in reference to Doom forming a team of villains, but the Red Ghost really already did that with his apes back in the far superior Issue 13. The Terrible Trio are a bit listless and lame, especially compared to the Super Apes (or even compared to DC’s Terrible Trio from the ’50s), and feature extremely generic and mildly racist personalities. I won’t be missing those guys.

But, we did get some nice development on Sue’s power set, and Doom’s plan to eject them into space was pretty cool, if scientifically tenuous. Our heroes dealt with him rather harshly, which is mostly just a reminder that the Fantastic Four are not your typical crime fighters who refuse to kill. They’ve always fallen into an ethical gray area, which makes their stories a bit less predictable than others in the capes crowd.

Next time: The Fantastic Four baby sit!


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